ALLISON Pearson notes that acrimony is stirring among working mothers on the internet forum Mumsnet. The trigger is the BBC’s new Christmas trailer about a harassed working mother who magically stops time so she can be with her forlorn teenage son. This scenario, Pearson argues, is indeed a ‘painful truth’. No wonder mothers are protesting that they are being made to feel guilty about working (or having to work) when work is not what they want to be doing.
Their complaints are ones to which a Government that boasts ‘it has got more mothers into work than ever’ is deaf. This might be great for GDP, but hardly so great for the majority of mothers who still say, in survey after survey, that they would prefer to be home more when their children are small. The reason the Government is not listening, Pearson says, is because motherhood, though ‘probably the most important job you can ever do, is unpaid and therefore has no economic value’.
Pearson recently spoke on this subject to the lobby group Mothers at Home Matter. It was, she said, ‘a bit like going to a fruit growers’ convention called Sunshine Found to Be Beneficial.’ What she found appalling was that ‘mothers at home matter’ shouldn’t even be up for discussion in a party that’s been pouring more and more money into free childcare ‘while penalising, via the tax system, any family with just one earner’.
The problem she rightly defines is that while feminists are bent on achieving mathematically equal numbers of men and women in the workplace, especially ‘at the top’, the Government is equally bent on women’s ‘economic activity’ out of the home; women who contribute via their taxes to ‘free’ childcare for other women while being prevented from spending any real ‘quality time’ at home, themselves, with their families.
In terms of its own goals, the government’s anti-home time and care policy has without doubt been very successful. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, only half of mothers aged between 25 and 54 were in work in 1975. By 2015, 72 per cent were back to work and leaving their children in the care of others.
Allison Pearson is right to conclude: ‘That has to be one of the most seismic social shifts of the past century.’
Airbrushed out of the whole ‘children’ debate, which is no longer about children but about choice – not theirs, but other people’s – are not just mothers who would be at home, but children too. From conception to childcare, the debate centres not around their rights but taxpayer-funded adult rights.
A visitor from Mars might not unreasonably interpret our Government as being devoted to separating mother from child at the earliest opportunity for all the emphasis on choice. The one choice, he’d note, that government ignores is women’s desire to spend more time at home with their children.
If we continue to treat children as a problem to be solved rather than a gift for which to be thankful, should we be surprised to find they do not return the compliment, or that they are beset with mental health problems? As Pearson concludes, ‘at the heart of the Christmas story is a mother and her baby, and a love without end’. Sadly it bears decreasingly little relation to the utilitarian reality that government imposes on modern-day families.